The thoughts of a woman trying to live simply yet abundantly, contentedly yet expectantly, wisely yet adventurously... all for His glory.


I never dreamed of Africa

Over dinner with a friend this past week, I marveled at the journey that God has been leading me on over the last several years in particular. I never knew that following Him would be such an adventure, and I will be the first to remind anyone who asks that I certainly don’t deserve this kind of joy. 
I never dreamed of Africa. I dreamed of traveling to Thailand with its rice paddies and elephants, and of India's tigers and kaleidoscope of colorful saris. 
I never dreamed of being a nurse. Earlier dreams included bus driver, flight attendant, and dentist. In college I thought I would earn a biochemistry degree then launch into discovering cures for various diseases. After realizing biochem wasn't for me, I then proceeded to dream about becoming a doctor, a dietician, a physician's assistant... and finally, finally nursing.
Through all my 27 years I have struggled to place God at the center of my life. I’m no model Christian, not by a long shot. Yet somehow I always return to the fact that I am my Beloved’s and He is mine. Each time I wander away He comes to bring me back, sometimes gently whispering and sometimes using the megaphone known as Pain (my thanks to CS Lewis for a great metaphor). 
I have no idea why He has chosen to be so gracious to me. Call me naive, call me rosy-eyed, call me idealistic, but I can’t help but think how stunning the grand adventure of life is with God! Most days are not page-turners, of course. There are chapters I wish I could have skipped. And I am holding my breath for some plot developments (romantic tension, anyone?). But I wouldn’t trade my journey for anything. God has written stories for each of us, and only as we walk through our own pages--and not those of others--are we truly content and truly alive.
I never dreamed of Africa or of nursing, yet tomorrow I fly to Niger to work as a nurse for two weeks at an up-and-coming fistula hospital in Danja. I have fallen in love with VVF ladies and with the transformation that happens in a woman when hope blossoms anew. I’ve fallen in love with the least and the lost. My heart beats for the outcast, the unloved, the lonely. 
I never dreamed of Africa. And I certainly never dreamed that God had dreams ever so much grander, more satisfying, more everything than mine.   

(Photo from Worldwide Fistula Fund)


VVF by the numbers

I don't tend to like numbers much; I prefer words. Words make sense to me, whereas numbers have any number of troublesome qualities like imaginary and irrational.

But I thought I might share with you some numbers now that all the VVF surgeries are over and done with and all of our ladies are journeying home.

Learning how to make soap while staying at the Hospitality Center either before or after surgery. The Hospitality Center is for patients who are from too far away to travel back and forth to the ship.

Why am I using numbers instead of words to talk about VVF? Good question. The truth is that I've had such a different role this year than I did last year when I was in the thick of things, so to speak. I pantomimed questions to my patients when no one spoke their language. I emptied catheters by the hundred. I learned to see things with new eyes through relationships with patients like Eugenie. I shared in the joys and sorrows of women I knew by name, simply because I was their nurse.

But this year was different. I've had two jobs, both of which were administrative. As a charge nurse, my main responsibility was to look after the nurses and to keep the shift running as smoothly as possible. As the Assistant VVF Coordinator (big fancy title, I know!) my job was to help handle paperwork, keep track of data, and be a clinical resource for the nurses.

So instead of stories, right now all I can offer you are numbers. But believe me, the numbers tell their own story!
  • We did VVF surgery on a total of 99 women (many of them had more than one operation, too--that brings the total up to 119 surgeries on those 99 women). 
  • Of those surgeries, 90% were successful (the fistula was closed and the woman was dry). That is exceptional, because VVF surgery is highly specialized and is always, always difficult.
  • Thanks to a generous loan of a bladder scanner (a specialized ultrasound machine that measures how much urine is in the bladder), we were able to detect and treat urinary retention in our patients. (Urinary retention is a common post-op complication and can cause infection or failure of the repair. Without a scanner, the only way to check for retention is to insert a catheter into the bladder, which poses a risk of infection. And of course it's miserable for the patient!) 
  • Using the bladder scanner meant that we caught and treated the 22% of our patients who developed retention after surgery. Look at it another way: we saved 78% of our patients from needing catheters inserted after their operation! 
(Let me pause to offer a belated apology for talking about catheters and bladders and urinary retention. I should probably consider having a "medical disclaimer" on my blog somewhere.)

So although the numbers don't tell the whole story, they do show this: all of the surgeons, all of the nurses, and every one of you who prayed for these women-- you did well. God used each of us to pour love and life and hope into their lives. I wish you could have seen them, standing in front of a crowded room in a new dress to praise the Lord for being dry. I wish you could have heard the drums pound and seen shoulders lift in dance and smiles radiate joy.

The numbers just don't do it justice.

I first met Rosali (in green) last year in Benin... her surgeries that year failed. But she returned to the ship this year and is now dry! Also pictured is Clementine, a patient discipler & counselor on board who loves the ladies with every iota of her being.


the road to Danja

This is the road to Danja.
(picture from Worldwide Fistula Fund)

This is the fistula hospital under construction in Danja, and I'm going to work there for two weeks in August.

The fistula hospital is being built following the red outline. (Picture from Worldwide Fistula Fund

Is your mouth hanging open like mine??

The VVF surgeon on board, Dr. Steve, is one of the surgeons behind the Worldwide Fistula Fund, and it's through this organization along with others that the hospital is being built.

Until the hospital is completed, surgeries will occur in other buildings on the compound. The compound also houses SIM missionaries and a leprosy clinic.

I'm so excited to see a different kind of Africa than I've experienced so far--the kind with sandstorms, camels, and turbaned nomadic peoples. But in researching it a little online, I've also found some tough news: Niger currently has the dubious distinction of being the least developed country in the world according to the Human Development Index.

A Nigerien VVF patient. (Picture from Worldwide Fistula Fund)

Please pray for me as I sort out the details of heading to Niger. I've booked a flight, but I also need a visa. Originally we thought that obtaining said visa required travel to Cotonou, Benin (where the ship was docked last year) because that is the closest Nigerien embassy. But we just found out there is a Nigerien Consulate here in Lomé (anyone know the difference between an embassy and a consulate?). So our passports are currently at the consulate, awaiting their official visas. I'm also praying that the return flight from Danja to Lo goes smoothly, as I will arrive back on the ship just a few days before the ship is due to sail for South Africa.

And now for a quick topic change. One of the things I love most about blogging is the fact that I can give whoever reads my blog a small glimpse into another corner of the world. I can tell stories of God's faithfulness, of what He is teaching me, and of the work He is always, always doing. So I just want to say a quick thank you to you all who take the time to read what I write and who pray faithfully for me and who encourage me in a million little ways.

We are all part of the grand redemptive work that God is scripting, whether or not you realize it. May you live your life Soli Deo Gloria-- for God's glory alone--wherever He has placed you, whether it be in Seattle or Rochester or Houston or Togo. Or Niger.